Lean In on Campus Kick Off at Facebook HQ

BWIB execs & members pose with Sheryl Sandberg
BWIB execs & members pose with Sheryl Sandberg

Updated November 10, 2013

Berkeley Women in Business (BWIB) and Haas undergraduate and graduate students attended the Lean In on Campus Kick Off event at Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park at 4:00PM this afternoon. While the kick-off event was live-streamed across college campuses worldwide, UC Berkeley was among the select few schools in the Bay Area that was personally invited by Sheryl Sandberg to be part of the live audience.

Sandberg founded LeanIn.org as a non-profit that provides women support and expert resources to achieve their personal and professional goals. The organization aims to create awareness of the challenges we face and educate the world about our unique circumstances in the workplace.

In accordance to LeanIn.org’s overall mission of empowering women, it has developed “Circles”, small peer groups of ideally 8-12 people who are encouraged to meet regularly to learn and share about each other’s experiences. The initiative started in March of this year. At the moment, there are over 10,000 circles existent in all 50 states in the United States and 50 other countries. Among these are a Computer Science-focused circle, and another consisting of military personnel based in Minneapolis. Lean In on Campus launched at Howard University only a few weeks ago. And it anticipates the number of circles to double right after the kick off.

How Circles Work. Source: LeanIn.org
How Circles Work. Source: LeanIn.org

Sandberg started off the event by explaining the reasons behind why she wrote her book, Lean In. She shares that men still run the world, white men still run the world. And despite excelling in the academia, the progress for women have stalled in the past ten years. She talks about being the only woman in exclusive business meetings. And since women do not have equal seats where decisions are being made, hence our voices as women are not equally heard. She hopes that through the Lean In on Campus program, she can play a role in gathering together and preparing the “Lean In Generation”, the generation that will change women’s current circumstances.

BWIB members take a group photo at FB HQ
BWIB members take a group photo at FB HQ. (L-R) Denice Sy, Tracy Yang, Anni Zhang, Alee Cho, Alyssa Tio, Mansie Cheung, Justina Nguyen, and Annette Ng

While there have been numerous institutional reforms and public policies implemented in response to women’s struggles, Sandberg believes there still needs to be significant change before the unfairly perceived gender norms can ultimately be eliminated. Sandberg described some of the stereotypes that are often associated to males and females respectively. Men are expected to be outspoken and assertive, whereas women are forced to be communal and speak only when spoken to. In spite of 21st Century advances, Sandberg urges that these stereotypes are still very strongly practiced worldwide.

Denice and Tracy at Facebook HQ
Tracy and I holding the Ban Bossy campaign poster at Facebook HQ

Sandberg proposes four key recommendations in battling these stereotypes, namely:

1.) Have confidence in yourself.

There has been much research done that prove men remember performing well, while women often feel they did not perform good enough. When men are successful, they attribute it to their skills, whereas women’s success is frequently associated to their effort, handwork, luck, and assistance from others.

While “feeling like a fraud” is an emotional tendency existent among all people, this is more evident in women. That being said, Sandberg insists everyone, women especially, should not wait to be sure they are qualified before they apply. “Take a seat at the table anyway”. In doing so, women will be surprised how much opportunities they will have gained for themselves overtime.

2.) Change the stereotypes.

Sandberg tells the story of her siblings. Apparently, her younger brother and sister labeled themselves as her employees #1 and #2; even though all Sandberg’s ever done was simply organize how her siblings played. Females are called bossy when they lead, which thus discourages leadership. If enough women lead, Sandberg is affirmative that the stereotype will change.

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

3.) Start out aiming high.

One young lady interviewed for a job with Sandberg. During their talk, the woman explored her concerns about work-life balance, pregnancy leaves, etc. When asked if the woman had a child, the interviewee claimed that she didn’t and actually did not plan to marry anytime in the future. Sandberg discusses that she sees this a lot in women. We are burdened with a lot of responsibility for housework and childcare, therefore find ourselves already compromising our professional goals when there is not yet need for any.

We are always told that we can’t have it all, when in fact 70% of all women in the U.S. have to work full time; so we do it all anyway. Sandberg asks the audience to think of a career as a marathon, and pretend graduating from college is the gunshot. Throughout the run, men are cheered to “keep running”. Women, on the other hand, are questioned: “Are you sure you want to do this? Don’t you want kids? Should you be working when you have a child at home?”

With this, Sandberg reiterates the importance of dreaming any dream: do not lean back about responsibility when it’s not yet there.

4.) Support each other.

Finally, this is where Lean In’s “Circles” program come into play. Sandberg states that it is through circles of support, peer groups, that each individual can lean in and slowly achieve to real equality, one person at a time.

In closing, Sandberg asks: “What would you do if there were no barriers?” The audience all closed their eyes, and when we opened them, Sandberg ends her talk saying, “then do it.”

David Noland and Julie Brown are among the Haasies to ask most of the questions during Q&A
David Noland and Julie Brown (upper right) are among the Haasies to ask majority of the questions during Q&A

The Lean In event concluded with a Q&A session, where most of the questions came from Haas undergrads and MBA candidates. Among the undergraduates who spoke up were David Noland, Julie Brown, Rumyana Ga, and Subha Rengarajan.

One of the most memorable and powerful tales I take away from the Q&A is that about Sheryl Sandberg’s inspiration. She describes her grandmother, while no longer with us, as her motivation for pushing through with her non profit. Sandberg’s grandmother grew up in poverty and was routinely pulled out of school to do odd cleaning jobs in order to put her brothers into school. Despite all her strifes, she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree, in fact, at UC Berkeley. She had started a business out of nothing; selling fake watches to raise a huge amount of money for a clinic she felt passionate about.

Sandberg is empowered to continue her cause: what if her grandmother grew up in another era where there were more opportunities available to women? This is why she works so hard to at least close the leadership gap between genders for our generation.

Watch Sheryl Sandberg’s talk here: http://new.livestream.com/leanin/campus

Read “With Lean In college program, Sandberg’s movement looks to build roots” article on USA Today College.

Denice Sy
Class of 2014

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